TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — To better understand the scope of Mobility Guardian 2019, the massive Air Mobility Command exercise which ran from Sept. 8-28, it might be helpful to think of a chessboard.
The aircraft and service members transporting cargo and refueling aircraft, along with people from one of more than two dozen partner nations, would be the pawns, rooks, knights, bishop and queens.
The exercise's air operations center at Travis AFB, ran by the 321st Air Mobility Operations Squadron would be the chessmaster, orchestrating every move for every airframe, all cargo and more than 4,000 participants.
The 621st AMOS made the operational-level moves, deciding which aircraft would do which mission to meet the exercise's strategic objectives.
"This has been a great opportunity for us to work together with all of our partners, our coalition, our foreign partners … as well as our U.S. partners that are here," said Brig. Gen. Joel Jackson, AMC deputy director of Operations, Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration. "This is a great opportunity across services, across nations, to come together in a(n) … exercise that's geared for mobility forces."
The exercise brought together a slate of partners from various nations, including Chile, France and the Netherlands. While the majority of Mobility Air Forces assets operated from Fairchild AFB, Washington, and other facilities on the western United States seaboard, it was Team Travis members moving the pieces.
"If you think about the type of airplanes, the folks who are involved, the different Air Force specialty codes, the complications with times and precoordination that it takes, it's really a test of communication," said Capt. Miguel Garcia, 321st AMOS airlift control team member. "This is very complex and to see people execute it, it's magical to say the least."
Being physically separated from the rest of the exercise was a reflection of what Airmen might face in the real world, said Maj. Chris Cummings, 321st AMOS executive chief.
"It makes it more difficult, but it also makes it more realistic to what really exists," Cummings said. "It provides a level of realism to the exercise. An AOC would never be colocated with the wings."
The exercise offered numerous opportunities to improve efficiencies.
"This has been a great success," Jackson said. "We've had some great learning points, some things that we maybe knew we didn't do so well, we validated. Maybe some things we thought we did better, we found out that as well. But all in all, our Airmen have done a fantastic job on the ground at the bases up in Washington and in the air, as we've been executing the mission, to get it done."
Capt. Liz DiPaola, 321st AMOS air refueling control team member, echoed the general's thoughts.
"It's not necessarily that we're OK with messing up, but we understand that some of the stuff has never been really tested with live flight before," she said. "That's why we're doing it, right? We're trying to figure out what we can make better for the next time. And so that all the tactical players — aircrew, maintenance, everything — has a little bit of experience … in case it ever happens in the real world."
Capt. Michelle Sanchez, 321st AMOS aeromedical evacuation control team, said recent events, such as moving a patient from Afghanistan to San Antonio for treatment while refueling twice in the air, show the benefit of the exercise.
"This kind of magnitude and multitude of exercise helps us to exercise those kind of movements, so when we have to do it in real life, we get it right the first time," Sanchez said.
Reservists also were a piece on the exercise chessboard. Master Sgt. Breanna Martinez, 349th AMOS, said the experience gained from the exercise, which strives to replicate real-world scenarios, was invaluable.
"I think, usually, with the simulator, we can rush through problems," she said. "This is the situation, we talk about it and then we say, 'OK, it's fixed.' Whereas in a real-world environment, with a live-fly situation, a problem arises and we have to work through it."